I definitely consider myself more a fan of meatier, mid-heavy games than lighter ones. Given the choice, I’d much rather sit down to a game of Caverna than a game of Lords of Waterdeep, or play Blood Rage (which I maintain is primarily a drafting game over all else!) instead of Sushi Go. This isn’t to say that I dislike filler games, but that’s just what they are–appetizers for the main course. So when a lighter game stands out to me (I do like Sushi Go by the way!), it’s almost always a special one. And today’s game Biergarten happens to be one of those little goodies.
As you would expect from a light title, the gameplay is extremely quick and simple in Biergarten.
Each player is dealt 2 cards to begin with, then in turn order, players select a starting “home” card from some face up options. From that point, player turns begin.
On a player’s turn they are required to draw a card. They can draw from the three face up cards in the “market,” take a face down card from the deck, or take a card at random from an opponent’s hand.
After drawing, the player then attaches a card from their hand to their Biergarten. The card cannot be rotated (arrows at the top show the direction it must point) and must be placed so that a shield on the card’s edge touches a shield of the card it’s attached to.
After placing, the player can move a single card from one spot to another or swap the positions of two cards. When finished, the player scores points based on the colored shields the newly placed card shares with the cards adjacent to it. 1 point is scored for a single color, 2 points for two colors. Matches with wild shields score 1 point. Any changes you made to existing card positions also score, but can cause you to lose points if you swap a card away from a favorable match!
While points are primarily scored through matching shields, bonus points can be scored a few different ways:
- Including all four colors at least once in matches across your biergarten awards 3 points. (Wilds can count for one color match each.)
- Establishing a run of seven identically colored umbrellas scores 2 points. The run is broken by home card, wilds, or any card not containing at least one of the required umbrella colors.
3. A staggering 6 points can be scored by enclosing your entire biergarten within a wall.
Biergarten is exactly what you want out of a light game. It plays in about 20 minutes, downtime is non-existent and it’s very portable. As you would expect from a card game, it’s also very inexpensive ($15 from their webpage here.) In short, it’s hard to go wrong with a simple, easy to play, tile placement game that looks as good as Biergarten does.
My only major issue is that Biergarten isn’t really the most compelling choice to bring out. That’s not necessarily the game’s fault as I have the same problem with other titles of comparable caliber. When I go to pull a game from my closet, I’m not generally thinking, “Oh yeah, time for Biergarten!” In the same way that I don’t think, “Whee Love Letter!” Or, “Yay Hanabi!” Light games have their role as fillers for meatier titles or for casual groups, but for me personally, I feel a bit let down when I’m not playing something more substantial. Again, that’s less a failing of the game itself and more on my part, particularly since the game is intended to be played while you’re at the local pub.
Good cardstock, charming artwork. I love the fact that you can sleeve the cards and fit them in the box by pulling out the insert.
My only gripe is that the cards definitely feel a little small for the game. The art feels a bit cramped by the thick white border around each card and I would love to see the game printed on larger, tarot sized cards. I recognize that the game is meant to be portable and using larger cards would definitely make it less so, but it would make for a better experience if you aren’t playing it on the go (which I’m not doing regularly anyway.)
Replay value is tricky to judge for short, light games like this. On the one hand, you could play this a couple dozen times and still enjoy it. But at the same time, you could realistically play it a couple dozen (or more) times in a weekend. I suspect it’s a game that would last out though, you’re likely going to play it 2-3 times each sit down and at that rate it would take a while to tire of it.
Simple yet effective, though some of the bonus scoring seems a little to high. Building an enclosed garden in particular seems to score a point or two more than it should, as in most of the game’s I’ve played, that’s always been the end game clencher. Considering you’re almost always going to get a minimum of 1 point per card you play, you often only need to place 8 cards to get a full 15 points for the long game.
At first glance Biergarten looks incredibly simple. Draw a card, play a card. And if that was all there was to it, it would be overly simple. But the rule that allows you to move one card, or swap the position of two cards, opens up a wealth of strategic possibilities that are easily overlooked. Especially as the group becomes more adept at watching and blocking other players, being able to throw off your opponents by placing tiles and then switching them later becomes increasingly more important.
My only concern is the rule that lets you pull a card from your opponent’s hand. If another player has taken a card to block you, pulling a card blindly from their hand gives you a 50/50 chance of grabbing what you want (as there are always two cards in hand). There’s no guarantee you’ll get what you’re looking for, you’ve still got a pretty good chance. As that’s the case, counter-play doesn’t seem like it is as effective as it could be.
Final Thoughts 15/20
Biergarten is a very nice little game that hits on all the points you would want in a light, portable game. But like other fillers, it’s never my first choice. My guess is that it’s not a game that’ll hit the table every time you sit down to play, but it’s definitely something that you would want to take with you for a night out on the town or when attending Oktoberfest.